Dolphin Tale (Review)

Dolphin Tale

Dolphin Tale
Directed by Charles Martin Smith
Written by Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi

Dolphin Tale
TarsTarkas.NET scored another free advanced screening because we’re awesome, and this time we saw the family film Dolphin Tale in 3D. And once again we’re giving a positive review to a film we saw for free. Let’s the claims that we’ve sold out begin! Because they are all dirty dirty lies. One day we’ll see something awful…but not today.

Dolphin Tale is a good family film, and as it is loosely based on a true story it is one of those inspirational films we don’t have enough of. The major problem with films like these is making them feel good without becoming gigantic cheese factories. Dolphin Tale manages to avoid most of those pitfalls and presents us with a story that seems plausible. The film throws in some traditional storytelling arcs around a child protagonist in order to capture the largest possible potential audience. And it is a good choice, as it is hard to structure a story around a character that isn’t human and can’t talk except for squeals and whistles. Even SeaQuest DSV had to have humans around their dolphin!
Dolphin Tale
A fisherman and a child named Sawyer Nelson find a dolphin stranded on the beach, entangled in a crab trap and badly injured. The Sea Animal Rescue crew is called in and take the dolphin away, but the normally jaded and withdrawn Sawyer is strangely concerned about the dolphin’s fate and sneaks into the rehabilitation center. He befriends Hazel, the daughter of the doctor who runs the place, and soon is involved in the rehabilitation of Winter the dolphin.
Dolphin Tale

Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) – Sawyer has gone bitter since his dad ran off years ago, interested in nothing except looking up to his older cousin, remote controlled helicopters, and failing school. But finding an injured dolphin by the sea changes his life and gives him the first sense of joy he’s had for years. His mom is a single nurse Lorraine Nelson (Ashley Judd), who is your typical struggling single mom. Nathan Gamble is probably best known for being Commissioner Gordon’s son in The Dark Knight. His acting here is more muted, and fades in comparison to…
Hazel Haskett (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) – Dr. Haskett’s daughter who works at the Sea Animal Rescue hospital and befriends Sawyer. Good thing there was a kid his age! Otherwise Sawyer would have to find out about Winter via text messaging or something. This is Cozi Zuehlsdorff’s first film, and she acts rings around some of the other characters, though she does tend to overact.
Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.) – Marine biologist who runs the Sea Animal Rescue hospital, father of Hazel, and swinging bachelor. His dad Reed is Kris Kristofferson, so he comes from a long line of cool. Dr. Haskett is too busy trying to save animals to worry about funding his hospital, which helps define the third act after the random hurricane.
Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) – Morgan Freeman pops up eventually as a doctor who makes artificial limbs. He’s enlisted by Sawyer to make an artificial fin for Winter.
Winter (herself, CGI, and puppets) – Winter is the dolphin who has a tale about losing her tail. Hey, I just got the pun in the title! Just kidding, I got it like five minutes ago…
Rufus (some Pelican and CGI) – The surprise standout of Dolphin Tale, Rufus shows up a lot in the film harassing various characters and stealing all the scenes he’s in. He also eats fish and lives on a roof, hence the name, Ceiling! I mean, Rufus.

Dolphin Tale

As we all know, Winter’s tail was amputated due to infection, and most of the film concerns her relearning to swim, and then learning that her new swimming method will kill her because it pulls her spinal column in the wrong direction. The only cure is to make her an artificial tail. Enter Dr. McCarthy. Can they come up with a suitable tail for Winter? Considering you can watch Winter on a webcam, your guess better not be wrong!

Dolphin Tale was shot in 3D (not post-converted), which surprised me but was the first film I’ve seen in over a year where the 3D wasn’t useless. It’s still not worth it to me to pay extra for it, but if you’re into that sort of thing there is a lot of neat 3D parts in Dolphin Tale. Most notably, the opening segment underwater (in my mind, this was like watching a proof of concept for the rumored underwater scenes in Avatar 2.)

Dolphin Tale
The text is just the Wikipedia page for dolphin!

Dolphin Tale ignores obvious tropes such as having the two single parents fall in love, the missing father miraculously returning, or the kids falling in love (except for the briefest of hints). Basically, most of what you can think of that would make things cheesy has been removed. The scenes of the amputee characters meeting with Winter are emotionally manipulative, but the actual Winter has actual amputees visit her all the time. In Dolphin Tale, they use Sawyer’s injured cousin Kyle as a stand in for the military veterans, and actor Austin Stowell puts in a good performance. They even sort of touch on PTSD, though not enough and have him just get over it. But spending too much time on that would distract from the narrative.

The main attraction to Dolphin Tale are the animals, especially Winter the dolphin. There are many other marine animals in the film, including the featured pelican Rufus. As someone who has actually worked with marine animals (I’m gonna pull out my biologist credentials here!) I liked seeing all those critters. One thing not touched on much is dolphins are cute and all, but they’re wild animals. Aside from a few shots of Winter thrashing around (largely due to her rejection various appendages), the dolphins have not even the slightest negative portrayal in the film. Hopefully this doesn’t lead to some idiot thinking he can go play with some dolphins in the ocean that aren’t used to people swimming with them and he gets dolphin raped.
Dolphin Tale
There are a few plot strains that go nowhere. Sawyer has a hobby building remote control helicopters, a hobby he does seemingly for the sole reason for product placement. Think of a classic song you hear every time you see helicopters in film. That is the song they play here. Hazel talking to her dead mother is touched upon lightly and you get the feeling there was once more there, though it was removed. And there are some bullies that are barely in the film but predominantly credited, hinting to deleted scenes. Sawyer’s wounded war veteran cousin is a good example of the budget limitations of the film. There was no way they could spend the extra million to digitally remove a limb or two, so they have to go with a spinal injury.

There was an extended preview of Spooky Buddies before the show. In case you are wondering, there is an animated talking puppy ghost. Stacy London from What Not to Wear was at the mall for a fashion show, so I now know all the hot fashion trends for fall (animal prints and retro mod are in!)
Dolphin Tale
If you need a good family movie or like 3D stuff, then I heartily recommend Dolphin Tale. If you want to go see Stacy London, too bad for you, that ship has sailed!
Dolphin Tale

Rated 8/10 (In movies bikes can take you anywhere without getting tired, magic touch, Billy Bass, dolphin expert, Mom, Gramps, custom parts guy, best actor in the film)

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